There's a village out there
As the famous Turkish folk song goes, “there’s a village out there that is ours, even though we’ve never been there yet...” There are several communities surrounding the very eastern province of Kars that many of even Turkish people haven’t visited yet, but they hold a considerable potential to develop the tourism sector in the entire Kars region. House pensioning is already very common and popular in several regions in Turkey, and is now being considered as an excellent option for the villages of Kars, which has authentic natural and historical assets. And what project can be more enjoyable than one where several UN agencies work for developing the tourism sector of a culturally rich region? The shining and warm autumn sun, which the eastern province of Kars enjoyed during the first two weeks of October, only added more fun to this work. United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) Alliances for Culture Tourism in Eastern Anatolia spearheaded several activities in Kars city centre and surrounding villages in the beginning of October.
Starting on the 5th of October, UNJP organised a special training program in Kars. 263 people including employees and employers who work in the tourism and service sector in Kars and locals who consider starting house pensioning, participated in On the Job Training, Training for Trainers Course and a Social Behaviour Seminar and Instructive Seminars on House Pensioning that were led by specialised instructors from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT). The week-long training culminated in a special ceremony on October 10th, where the dedicated and enthusiastic participants of the Training for Trainers Course received their participation certificates from Deputy Governor of Kars Murat Demirci and General Director of Research and Training General Directorate Mahmut Evkuran. The participants also attended an evaluation exam at the conclusion of the training week. Individuals with strong test scores received a Special Award Certificate from the MoCT.
To help the constructing of local prospects for cultural and economic growth, the training team visited five villages as part of the training programme between 5 -12 October. These outings began with three villages around Lake Çıldır. Despite the current busy harvest time in the region, 38 women and 43 men from Taşbaşı, Çanaksu and Doğruyol villages gathered to learn about the possibilities of House Pensioning in the area. These scenic townships around the lake do not only have a beautiful view but are also home to several species of birds and other wildlife. Spending leisure and recreational time outdoors in this beautiful habitat is already popular during warm months. And the harsh conditions of a long winter invite new and exciting tourism prospects. The mesmerizing scenery surrounding Çıldır Lake paints an inspirational backdrop for winter activities such as ice fishing.
The second portion of the instructional seminars was held in Boğatepe, a village that has previously hosted various Turkish and foreign guests. The locals of Boğatepe enjoyed the interaction and learning about increased tourism prospects in their community; these villagers make good use of their rich flora, cultivating and providing several plants and herbs for the medical and cosmetics sectors. The 22 local participants, 16 of which were women, were extremely enthusiastic about these seminars. Not only did they listen attentively to the experts but they also shared their own recent experiences in pension management. They even found time to serve their excellent home made cheese and kete (a type of local pastry). Since the village already has an established association that develops and nurtures the region’s tourism prospects, the village is now preparing to apply for a full training program from MoCT.
The third day of training found the trainers in the Hamamlı village of Sarıkamış district. Sarıkamış already boasts a growing popularity in its winter sports facilities and Hamamlı, a village tucked alongside a beautiful forest, also has excellent prospects for tourism. Many locals gathered in the elementary school of Hamamlı, including 24 women and 26 men, and 15 teachers (of whom 9 were women from nearby villages). Together they all learned about house pensioning and start-up procedures.
Before the training initiative, the villages of Kars displayed heartfelt hospitality by offering local delicacies and serving cheeses unique to Kars. In order to further build upon their tourism prospects however, they needed to be well informed and fully armed with strong tools for fostering further economic and cultural development in the region.
Recognizing Kars’ Unique Cultural Heritage
The last activity of the week for the UNJP took place at Kafkas University. A Capacity-Building Workshop for the Mapping of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Kars was organized under the UNJP framework and contributions of Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT) and Kafkas University. Students from Kafkas University’s Turkish Language and Literature Department attended workshops about research methodologies, techniques and processes that were run experts from Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT). These students will conduct field research in the towns and villages as a part of the mapping of intangible cultural heritage in Kars.
United Nations Joint Program “Alliances for Culture Tourism in Eastern Anatolia” aims to mobilize the culture sector in Turkey’s Eastern Anatolia, resulting in increased incomes for the people of Kars and thus, contributing to the realization of poverty reduction at a localized level. In specific, the joint program will develop the cultural tourism sector in Kars by contributing to social cohesion by recognizing pluralism and by reducing income disparities between people of Kars and the rest of the country.